How Do I Handle Life’s Upsets?

March Madness would be boring were it not for upsets. As long as it’s not our team, those of us who find that time of year fascinating love to see the lower seed pick off someone they have no business beating.

I’ve found myself pulling for a team I didn’t know existed in the hopes that they embarrass the perennial championship team.

But I hate it when it’s my team. Since I’m a fan of a team that almost never even makes the tournament (NC State), I don’t really have to worry about this much. If I did pull for a winner, however, I can’t imagine the crushing feeling of the last second buzzer beater.

One second you’re up two with less than a second to play, and the next twelve dudes from the other team are awkwardly embracing one another and jumping up and down at mid-court.

The Upsets Of Life

Sports are compelling because they parallel life so well. We all know the reality of the upset. Life turns quickly. One minute we’re doing great—marriage is healthy, our kids are healthy and happy, work is fulfilling, and there’s a fun vacation waiting around the corner.

But things change quickly, don’t they? The phone rings, you get an email, there’s a conversation you never expected, and you’re not winning anymore. You’re now the fifth-year senior sitting at the end of the bench with a towel on his head to cover his tears.

Upsets are fun in sports; they are crushing in other aspects of life. But upsets are coming to us all. Given enough time, we will all experience our share of upsets in this life. We’re not likely to know when the upsets are coming, or in what area, but it will surely come. What are we to do and how should we respond when upsets come?

Spend Less Time on “Why” and More Time on “Who”

The predictable question when we’re confronted with life’s upsets is: why has this happened to me? What did I do to cause the upset? We do our best Charles Barkley or Kenny “The Jet” Smith impression and go to the teleprompter of life attempting to diagnose the weakness in the defense that allowed the buzzer-beater to happen in the first place.

We’re prone to create a scenario in our head that causes us to blame ourselves, or even God, when upsets happen.

Fair enough. There are certainly ways that my actions create the right conditions for an upset. Sometimes I do something stupid and directly contribute to what feels like a crushing loss. And it’s also true that God is at work in every aspect of our lives, using circumstances that feel like upsets to conform us to His image and accomplish His good purposes in our lives.

Take the Israelites for example. The wilderness had to feel like an upset of epic proportions. They were God’s prized people, destined for the Promised Land. They spent forty years wandering in a desert for their unwillingness to trust God and humble themselves. Here there was a more direct correlation between the nature of their sin and the upset that followed.

But this is often not the case in our lives. There are many times when the causal link is far more difficult to diagnose. Try as we might, we’re unsure why things went down the way they did.

If we’re not careful, we can drive ourselves crazy trying to play the role of a commentary on the upsets of our lives.

Someone we love gets sick. Why? Was it something they did? Something they didn’t do? In most cases, the answer is, “who knows?” Sickness is a part of the world as a result of the fall. It’s an upset that merely results from life in a broken world.

Reframing an upset in this fashion helps ask a more fundamental question about these experiences: who? Who do we trust when the upset comes? Who do we trust to be at work, in and through our upsets, to faithfully fulfill His good purposes?

The Man Born Blind

The best parallel seems to be the man born blind who is brought before Jesus in John 9. Jesus quickly moves past the why question that is on the forefront of the mind of His disciples. He doesn’t try to diagram the factors that led to his brokenness.

His focus is on the God who is at work in the midst of the upset.

The reasons, if we want to call them that, for the man’s suffering were so that the power of God could be seen at work in his life. For this man, Jesus did what God will one day do for all of those who trust Him by faith. He reversed the effects of brokenness and made the blind man whole.

This is the future hope to which we cling during the upsets of life. We know who is in control.

We know who is at work to ensure that our present sufferings will be worth nothing compared to the eternal glory that awaits us.

We know who is faithful to ensure that nothing will be able to separate us from His love.

We know the one who is working to ensure that all things will ultimately work together for our good—either in this life or the next.

Leave The Commentary To Others

We can leave the commentary work to the guys at TBS. We don’t have to tinker with all of the reasons why upsets happen. It doesn’t mean we look forward to them. And it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a proper time and place to ask why various things happen in our lives.

But it does mean that the first place we should turn when the buzzer sounds is the One who looks down on our little lives and knows exactly why He’s doing what He’s doing.

I am married to Sarah and we have four children: Corrie, Avery, Hudson, and Willa. We live in Greenville, SC where I serve as the pastor of The Church at Cherrydale. I am a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD) and enjoy reading and writing. I am also the author of three books: Aspire: Developing and Deploying Disciples in the Church, Seven Arrows: Aiming Bible Readers in the Right Direction, and Mergers: Combining Churches to Multiply Disciples. Find Matt online at or follow him on Twitter @mattrogers_